“As expected of the Machine City. Even at this hour, shops are still open for business.”
Walking along the lit streets, Raishin spoke cheerfully.
The sun had already set, but the streets were still bustling with life. The streets were still filled with human traffic, and stores and restaurants were still crowded with customers. There were shoe stores, clothing outlets, jewellery stores, stores that sold mechanical parts and items used in magic arts, as well as shops that handled automata.
“Hey, you two students! Come on in!” “I’ll give you guys a discount!”
They were assailed on both sides by the voices of the shopkeepers. Raishin chuckled,
“Wow, they’re friendly to Orientals as well.”
“That’s only because you’re wearing the academy uniform.”
Charl, who had been in a bad mood ever since he dragged her out, gave him a stinging rebuttal.
“Exchange students are rich. They’re VIPs in the shopkeepers’ eyes.”
“I don’t exactly hate that. At least, it’s a more believable explanation than compassion or charity.”
“Hmph… that’s a rather cutthroat outlook.”
“I’m a realist, you know.”
Suddenly, Charl ducked her head and stealthily hid behind him.
Walking towards them was a red faced man.
While he looked a little inebriated, it wasn’t like he was drunk out of his mind.
“… What’s wrong?”
Although having said that, it was clear she was anything but calm.
Abruptly, a bunch of kids laughed behind them, and Charl jumped at the sound.
Raishin stopped, comparing Charl with the hustle and bustle of the city.
“W-what’s that haaaa supposed to mean? Don’t look so smug.”
“In short, you’re feeling helpless because Sigmund’s not around.”
He hit the mark again. Charl suddenly fell silent.
“That’s normal for puppeteers. But don’t worry. You’ve already seen how strong I am, right?”
“That’s why I’m worried. There’s no guarantee you won’t try to make a pass at me later when sending me back.”
“You really don’t trust me at all, do you? Well, I guess I reap what I sow.”
With a wry laugh, he started walking again. Charl hurriedly chased after him. If anything, she reminded him of a puppy that didn’t like to be left behind, and he laughed at the thought.
“D-don’t just go off like that. Where are you planning on going anyway?”
“I was thinking of walking along the waterways. Yaya was making a fuss about how the night scenery is supposedly very beautiful.”
“… Hmph, that is so clichéd. If that’s the best you can come up with, let’s just go back. I’m starting to get hungry.”
“Alright. If that’s the case, let’s go grab a bite.”
“So we’re going back to the dormitories?”
“Don’t be such a wet blanket. Let’s find a place with a good atmosphere and eat there.”
It was a strong refusal, but almost immediately she snapped her mouth shut, mumbling something.
“This month… I seem to be in a state of economic distress… that is, I’m having financial difficulties…”
“If you’re worried about money it’s fine. I brought out my wallet today, so I can treat you.”
Charl’s eyes sparkled.
An instant later, she had snapped out of it, turning her head away with a ‘hmph!”
“I refuse to accept charity from a pervert like you.”
However— her stomach betrayed what she was saying, asserting its opinion by rumbling loudly.
Charl turned visibly red, and started smacking Raishin.
“… Eh, me? How is this my fault?”
“For me to be embarrassed like this… unforgivable!”
Finally, with a hint of desperation and some tears in her eyes, Charl declared loudly.
“Fine. I get it. I’ll have you treat me completely and thoroughly.”
Twenty minutes later, the two of them were in a restaurant along the waterway.
They were seated on the balcony of the second floor.
The light reflected off the waterway could be seen clearly. The building’s interior was a modern design combining steel frames and brick, giving it a good impression without being too pretentious.
For appetizers, they had uncured ham mariné(1). While Charl chewed on her food, she stared at Raishin’s hands as if she was seeing something curious.
“I’ve heard that the Japanese have terrible table manners— surprisingly, you’re very normal.”
“For your information, using chopsticks is way harder than using a fork.”
“You drink your soup by bring the bowl to your lips and sipping? That’s so noisy.”
“There’s nothing wrong with slurping miso soup, it’s just a different culture. Don’t speak ill of another country’s customs.”
With some light banter, but nothing particularly malicious, the dinner continued.
Next, a clear soup with a strong smell was brought to them. Raishin found the taste too strong for his liking, but Charl seemed to like it, cheerfully going “There there, it’s not for everyone.”
While waiting for the meat dish, their eyes met.
She was staring at him like she wanted to say something.
“You should be more honest. Please feel free to speak your mind, my lady.”
He jokingly used polite speech. He thought that would finally get her to talk… although that wasn’t the case. Charl hesitantly opened her mouth,
“Why did you ask me out?”
“You were the one who asked me out.”
“No. I’m not talking about this… it’s about yesterday, during lunch.”
She averted her eyes. The tip of her nose turned faintly pink, something he thought was surprisingly cute.
While a bit taken aback by the question, Raishin managed to answer.
“Why, you ask— I suppose I was just going with the flow.”
“Going with the flow? What a foolish answer.”
Contrary to being discontent with his answer, Charl gave a little laugh, not as dissatisfied as he thought she would be.
“You really are a reckless person. Not only did you challenge me, the T-Rex, to a fight, you actually had the guts to then ask to have lunch with me. You really are an idiot beyond saving.”
“I thank you for your words of praise.”
“I have a question for the idiot.”
“Ask away, my lady.”
“Why did you target my entry qualification?”
At that point, the waiter brought them their meal. It was veal; just by looking at it they could sense the tenderness. It had been grilled to a beautiful colour, and the fragrant sauce alone whetted their appetites.
After the waiter had placed their plates on the table, Charl waited for him to leave before continuing.
“There are a hundred entrants in the Night Party. There should have been easier opponents for you to target.”
“… if it were someone I could defeat easily, there would be no point.”
“To make the Night Party executive committee take notice of you?”
“No… well, I guess there was that too, but that wasn’t it.”
Knife in hand, he searched for the right words. He wasn’t good at explaining things.
Just like Charl had said, while trying to appeal to the executive committee, defeating a strong opponent would have a greater effect.
Even if he did win his fight, there was no guarantee that he could obtain an entry qualification that way. Beating up countless Benchwarmers to get into the Night Party… if he had done it that way, he would have failed.
However, Raishin’s reason for seeking out a stronger enemy wasn’t just because of that.
“I thought to myself, I’m going to defeat someone and rise up the rankings to take his place. For me to arrive out of the blue and get an entry qualification through brute force seems somehow wrong. So I felt like I had to take some sort of risk, or it would be unfair… well, I mean, either way it would still be unfair.”
Raishin struggled to express himself properly—in the end, he gave up.
“Sorry. I guess I myself also don’t really understand why I did it. By the way, this is delicious.”
“… I thought you were someone who was hard to read, someone whose thoughts I couldn’t get a hold off.”
Her eyes half opened, Charl spoke in an astounded tone.
“But it looks like you weren’t even thinking. Your thoughts were just flapping about in the wind like a piece of laundry. There’s no way I could have read a person like that.”
“That’s about right. Is that all you want to ask?”
“One more question. What’s with your style of fighting? It’s my first time seeing someone fight alongside his puppet.”
“Ah… That’s something like a cunning trick.”
“Originally, I was brought up in a house of war. My clan is… was skilled in fighting as a group.”
Charl’s fork suddenly stopped. Something had caught her attention.
“Controlling a military unit— that was the hallmark of the Akabane clan puppeteers.”
At that moment, the look on Charl’s face changed. She had realised something.
In the academy, there was one person who was skilled in group warfare. The strongest puppeteer, who wielded six female type automata simultaneously.
However, Charl didn’t say anything. Bringing a piece of veal into her mouth, she silently waited for him to continue.
Appreciating her consideration, Raishin continued on.
“Well, they also had someone as talentless as me inside. Just controlling Yaya alone is already a heavy burden for me. Therefore, in place of a puppet I substitute my own body instead. Luckily, I do have some knowledge of martial arts. So instead of hastily prepared magic, I rely on my fists to fight.”
“Hastily prepared..? So, tell me, what do the Oriental spells looks like?”
“We don’t use spells or invocations. Suimei, Shinkan, Kouen, Tenken— to put it frankly, the Fuurinkazan(2). Rudimentary battle concepts in word form. In my clan’s case, you can think of it as a… code. By using them I can adjust the nature of the magic energy, the output, the type of magic art and the formation I’m transmitting to Yaya.
‘You verbalise your commands? That sounds like something only a beginner would do.”
“I AM a beginner. I’ve only seriously studied puppetry for two years.”
Charl’s jaw dropped.
“I’m shocked. In that case, why do you want to be the Wiseman? If you’re not even an expert in puppetry, why would you fly all the way over from the East? Why do you want the Wiseman’s throne—“
Raishin raised his finger to stop her.
“I have various reasons for wanting it. Now, I think it’s my turn to ask some questions.”
He evaded her question. Charl had a look of blatant dislike on her face, but to refuse him wouldn’t be fair, or so she thought, so she reluctantly nodded.
“What’s your relationship with Felix? Where did you first meet?”
“Are you interested in him? Don’t tell me, are you really a hom—“
“What did you just say? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“He called out to me from afar…”
Charl blushed slightly, and her eyes dropped.
“I was making enemies without even knowing it… no, that’s fine, right? I’m more comfortable being alone, and I wasn’t planning on getting friendly with future enemies. However—“
Her sapphire eyes clouded over.
“Acting alone has its good points and bad points. There were a lot of people who would get weirdly conceited once they learnt that their opponent would only be one person. Damaging my locker, or hiding my bag… really, they had too much free time on their hands. Also, they had the temerity to do stuff that normal people wouldn’t.”
She spoke in an annoyed tone. After that, her expression changed into a gentle smile.
“Felix was a member of the disciplinary committee, so he would look out for me.”
“I see. So that’s when you started to like him.”
“I don’t. Stop speaking such nonsense or I’ll burn you alive!”
“You actually would have preferred if it were him and not me on this date right now, don’t you?”
“He did invite you out before. Why did you refuse him? Everything would have worked out as you desired.”
“… I can’t.”
Her anger disappeared. Rapidly losing her spirit, Charl looked away deflated.
Her gaze falling onto the darkness of the waterway, she spoke in a hollow voice.
“Felix has a different sort of popularity than the one you have. A lot of the female students are crazy about him. If word got out that I went on a date with him…”
“You would have needlessly increased the amount of enemies you have, huh.”
She fell silent. Not wanting to press the issue any further,
“Let’s change topics. Why do you want to become the Wiseman?”
“That has nothing to do with you.”
“It doesn’t. But I’m interested nonetheless.”
Charl thought about it for a moment, before half sighing her answer.
“I have a… dream I must fulfil.”
She didn’t answer. However her lips, which were pressed tightly together, were overflowing with a sad determination. It wasn’t for fame or social status, but her determination was brighter than any fire.
It was something of great importance to Charl. She probably didn’t trust him enough to share it with him and he knew it. Raishin knew that was the end of that particular conversation.
“It looks like you have your own fair share of problems.”
“Hmph. I could say the same about you.”
Charl curtly replied— then she giggled slightly.
Maybe she found it strange, or she enjoyed herself, but she was laughing. When she laughed like that, Raishin didn’t see her as a violent problematic child, or a haughty aristocratic lady, but as a perfectly normal girl.
After treating her to three scoops of ice cream, Raishin stood up.
“Let’s go. Before we go back to the dorms, there’s something I need to buy.”
Leaving the restaurant, they walked through the city at Charl’s pace.
Window-shopping around town, they spent a long time inside a shoe shop, before heading back to the road that would bring them back to the academy since it was almost curfew time.
“Thanks for helping me decide. I have no clue when it comes to women’s clothing.”
Lightly tapping his package from the shoe shop, he gave Charl a small laugh.
“Hmph. I didn’t expect you to have such consideration for others. That’s quite surprising considering I thought you were an insensitive, selfish, rude and perverted foreign barbarian.”
That was excessively long. However, he found that he couldn’t disagree with her (save for the pervert part), so he didn’t reply.
“Or perhaps the reason why you’re fussing over her to that extent is because that girl is scary?”
“Hm… I’m not sure if scary is the right word for it… dangerous would also be appropriate…”
“Such a pathetic man. To be controlled by your automaton runs opposite to convention, don’t you think?”
Although she was insulting him, there was no real spite in her words. Charl laughed in a relaxed manner.
Eventually, as the gates of the academy came into sight, she said something unexpected.
“About our talk earlier. When you gave me your reasons for targeting me.”
“Ah… I thought I told you I didn’t get it myself.”
“I get it.”
Hearing her say something so unexpected, Raishin turned to face her without thinking.
“It may only be a little bit, but I think I understand. The feeling of wanting to be punished… That’s because I’ve committed a sin before.”
He was about to ask her what she meant by that— but then he noticed something strange happening up ahead.
It was past nine. Normally, by this time the academy should have been peacefully quiet.
However, there was some kind of commotion going on inside the gates.
“What’s this? Hey, wait a minute— Raishin!?”
Charl was shouting behind him. However, he didn’t stop. As swift as a gale, Raishin dashed up the path, running towards the academy at full speed.
Each one corresponds to one element in the fuurinkazan. Suimei=wind, shinkan=forest, kouen=fire, tenken= mountain.